Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Santana the Forest horse

Well, after the close call with the rattler, we decided to head north this week. We went towards Pine, Az, which is about 2 hours north of here. I had scoped out by car several trailheads up in that area a year or so ago, and decided I wanted to try this one. Vickie is always game for anything. She is the best riding buddy ever. She has helped me so much with Santana and myself, I am so lucky and blessed to have found her.

Vickie has a sister here, Kathy, who rides, and who has a great, 30 year old paint Harley. Well, once Kathy found out our plans to go to Pine on Monday, she took a personal day from work to come along for the adventure as well!

Kathy and Harley were already at Vickie's house at 8am when I swung by to pick them up. We loaded the trailer with everything we needed for the day, and headed up. After about two hours we got to the trailhead. Tall pines everywhere. This was a new environment for Santana. While he did live in a similar town, all of his under saddle work has beed in the desert. I wasn't sure what he would think of the canopy, and big trees down everywhere ,and logs and stumps and all. It would be another "FIrst" for him.

I had gotten some trail maps together before we left home. After consulting my buddies, we decided out adventure for the day would take us to "Dripping Springs." We saddled up and off we went. This ride was completely in Tonto National Forest. There were some trail markers, but early on we weren't sure if we were on the right trail to the springs. After a while we found a sign that confirmed were were correct. These were HARD trails, very hilly, lots of rock. Santana was a little full of go at first, but as soon as we hit the rocks, he slowed way down, concentrating on his footing. In some places, if he didn't get the correct foot in the correct place, he would be screwed. He really managed VERY well at all of that, thinking, and figuring out what he had to do. I try to just stay out of his way in these spots, and let him work. I think he has learned through our adventures together this year, that I will help him if he needs it, but that I TRUST him to be able to get us through less-than-desireable footing situations, allowing him to own the task at hand, and to do what he needs to do to get us through it safely. I think that this is the beginning to that great relationship that we are developing. There was also a lot of blow down blocking the trail which made maneuvering a littler trickier. There had been a fire here as well, so lots of ash, and you just don't know what the footing is under that ash...

Eagle Eye Vickie saw a red fox off the trail. (I never saw it. She sees everything!) The trail came to a very long and steep ascent. About half way up, Harley stops as he needs a breather. He is 30, and has earned the right to do just that. What a good horse he is. You would really never know he is 30. He acts about 15 most of the time, and loves to go. Good trail etiquette dictates that Vickie and I stop our mounts as well. Santana could have made it up without stopping, but it was far more important to keep everyone together and the horses all happy. Upon reaching the top, we were now on an old access road, way on the top of the mountain. The views were spectacular. We were at about 6500 feet, according to my GPS. Snow was still abundant on the mountain tops across from us. So cool! (hey, when you will in the desert, seeing snow from a distance is cool. I grew up in the snow bely, and have no desire to actually live in the stuff) After a short time, we reached Dripping Springs. This was just that (see photo) a small spring with water dripping from the rocks above. It was obvious that this was a VERY popular watering spot for the elk, as there were elk hoof prints everywhere around that hole. We decide to have lunch there, and we did. The trail continued on, but there was a lot of blow-down, making it impassable. And, it really was time to head back anyway.

All the tricky thing we had to do going up the mountain, we now had to do going down, which, is harder. Again,so long as Santana has to watch where he was putting his feet, he was slow and steady. But as soon as we reached any sections of trail that were "smooth" (no rocks) and sort of flat, he wanted to GO! He will make a great endurance horse! He has the brain of one already. That is the equation he needs to have. "We can make up time here mom, lets go!!!" He is such a good boy, and a cool horse.

On our way down, in one of the canopied areas, Vickie, who is in front of me, yells " Horny Toad, Horny Toad" as I look, I see her flying off her horse (on purpose) and proceeds to DIVE after the toad, which she catches. How she saw that thing, I am telling you. She has AMAZING critter eyes. Proudly she displays her catch, we get some pictures, and she carefully releases him in the same spot she caught him. I won't tell you how old Vickie is, but she has grown children, And the dive she made after that toad would make most 15 year old boys envious.

I was surprised we didn't see any elk, as there were fresh dropping everywhere. And, as was our goal, we saw no snakes as it was too cold for them there yet. Yippee!!!!

We made it back to the trailer, loaded up and came home. It was great fun. Although, I could have done without the snake reports in the SanTans of snakes slithering out from under horse trailers in the parking lot, and snakes in the trails.

Yep, we are headed north again next week.

Ghost Town, Rattlesnake, and Margarita

Vickie and I decided it would be fun to take a field trip and trailer up to the Ghost Town by the Goldfield mountains. This used to be a gold mining town in the late 1800s, and has been renovated as a first class tourist trap hot spot. No trip to valley is complete without the obligatory visit to the Ghost Town, where you can have lunch in the original 1887 saloon.

So, we picked Vickie and Dakota up at about 9 or so, and got up there around 10. We parked on BLM land just next to the ghost town, saddled up, and headed off. It was very green, lots of tall green grasses. We decided to play it safe and stay on the wide open old mining roads, as with all the tall grasses we didn't want to risk running into a snake on the single track trails. They should have still been in hibernation, but it was getting warm (not warm enough yet for them) but the grasses were tall, and if they WERE out, we wouldn't be able to see them in the grass.

We actually started out in a wide wash. Fine. Santana is getting into pretty good shape these days, and he wanted to go. I didn't. We had some conversation over this, and after about ten minutes, he agreed with me. Good boy. The wash led us to a wide mining trail, heading up into some small foothills. My friend Vickie can't see to dial a cell phone, but, past about two feet , she can see a needle in a hay stack. She has amazing "I see nature" eyes. Not too far up the road she spotted three mule, obviously enjoying the bountiful grasses from all the rain we have had this winter. Cameras came out, and we started to take pictures. This time, she kept one hand on her reins though, so as not to repeat the coyote incident....

Once we got our fill of mule deer, we continued on, sticking to the mining roads. I was about 20 feet behind Vickie when almost simultaneously I heard her yell "snake" and heard the loudest rattling and hissing sound I have ever heard live. She scooted forward and turned around. A huge rattler was coiled and ready to strike from the side of the road in the tall grass under a small tree or bush of some sort. He was VERY unhappy bout her being there. Good friend that I am , I froze. I wasn't going any closer. No way. This was unusual snake behavior, because he has every chance to move away as he felt her coming towards him, AND, she wasn't that close for his to already be ready to to strike. It isn't like she almost stepped on him. The snakes are out early, disoriented as they have been forced out of hibernation early due to the rains flooding them out of their dens. Yuck.

So, there we were. My legs were like jello. Vickie and Dakota were on one side of the snake, us on the other. Vickie and I decided that we could just go back, have lunch and a margarita at the sallon, and we would be FINE wit hte short ride. We were both shaken up by this. Only problem was, Vickie still had to get back by that very ticked-off large, venomous reptile. After several minutes, he lowered his neck and flattened out. Good, and bad. She couldn't really see him anymore to know where he was. Mojave Green Rattlesnakes are VERY aggressive, and will come after you. We didn't think it was one of those, not green enough. (we have 17 species of rattlers here...) So, she decided to lope past him and stay as far to the side ofthe road as possible. (we were hoping there wasn't a mate close by... after hibernation comes breeding season..) I moved Santana further up the raod to give her room, and they came on through with no troubel. The rest of the ride back to the trailer, we were on high alert, nervous, and just wanting to get back to the trailer.

We made it back to the trailer without another sighting. However, once there, we hade to check under the trailer to make sure there weren't any snakes under it. (this happens frequently here...) Satisfied that our rig was snake free, we unsaddled and watered the horses, and loaded them into the trailer so they could have thier lunch safely, while we wlaked yp to the saloon to have ours. Vickie ordered a margarita to calm her nerves. I was driving, but I had a sip of hers just because it seemed like the thing to do. We decided at lunch that we needed to head to higher ground wher ethe snakes weren't out yet, and decided next week we would head towards PAyson, where overnight it is still in the high 30s. Perfect!

Springtime in the SanTans

Vickie and I continue our adventures. We lost Suzie a couple weeks ago, as her hubby who flies helicopters in Afganistan was home for a couple weeks.

We had an unusual amount of rain this winter. Thanks El Nino. Vickie and I have been looking for the wildflowers for weeks, and yet, they just weren't blooming.

They were just starting to bloom on this ride. Unfortunately, so are the rattlesnakes. All the rain has flushedthem out of their homes early. They should still be in hibernation. Lots more info on that in the next post, "Ghost Towns, Rattlesnakes and Margaritas."

Anyway, we are getting gyped out of a month of good and very pretty riding. Bah!

Santana and I go to School

wow... its been a while since I've posted for my boy. We've been very busy, good intentions to post, but just didn't... so, here are some updates.

Santana and I attended a Larry Whitesell clinic in Cave Creek March 11-14. Larry is a nationally renown natural gaited horseman, who believes in natural collection to get a horse to gait, NOT just sticking a big shanked bit in their mouths, ventroflexing them, to make them gait. I had never attended (as a participant) any horse clinic before, but I had LArry's DVDs and had been working on his method. His method really isn't his. He is the first to tell you that. It is basic dressage principals and exercises. These exercises enable the horse to relax, get his balance naturally and properly, which will enable him to do what he is genetically predisposed to do, which is gait. So simple, yet, so hard.

Santana had never been away from home like this before. The clinic horses (12 in all) were housed in a mare motel type barn with large run outs. He had never been in such a small confinement before, but he wasn't nervous at all, or restless, or anything. He acted like this was old hat. I know he laid down to sleep because his tail and mane were full of shavings each morning. He eat well, drank well, pooped and peed well. (only us horse folks get soooo excited about poop and pee!)

The clinic was held in a covered arena, which was surrounded by pastures full of horses. Ok, he wasn't too sure about the covered arena, but after about ten minutes he was fine. He was more interested in everything else going on around him... the horses moving in the pasture 800 feet away, or, the little yappy dogs that were just outside the arena, belonging to folks auditing the clinic. He was a little A.D.D. Curious about everything else going on around, and not really paying any attention to me. Not that that was a huge detriment, as I was the one needing to learn the exercises so I could do all this stuff at home.

It was fun to mingle with other gaited horse folks. I was amazed that I knew several people there already. I enjoyed camping in my trailer and visiting with others. There were people there from Wyoming, Utah, California as well as AZ.

Anyway, I learned a lot, and have been practicing the exercises with him almost daily, and he is starting to get it. I think he is humoring me right now, but eventually, he will understand that there was a reason for all of it, and be appreciative that I chose to take the time to teach him right, so that he doesn't live a life in pain from improper balance and collection JUST to get him gaiting right away.